- Associated Press - Saturday, July 12, 2014

PIONEER, La. (AP) - Elaine Allen of El Dorado, Arkansas, was vaguely aware of Poverty Point State Historical Site’s existence in northeastern Louisiana. But until it was named a World Heritage Site, she’d never been motivated to visit.

“When I heard about it becoming a World Heritage Site, I knew I had to come,” said Allen, who visited the ancient earthworks recently with her sister Evelyn Kemper of Monroe. “It’s pretty amazing to have something of that stature here, and I wasn’t disappointed.”

After the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee inscribed the site by acclamation at its convention in Doha, Qatar, on June 22, National Geographic published a story calling Poverty Point “Louisiana’s Best Kept Secret.”

Now, as one of only 22 World Heritage Sites in the United States, the secret is out.

“You’ve probably never heard of it,” National Geographic’s reporter wrote, “but that’s about to change.”

The Poverty Point complex comprises five mounds, six concentric semi-elliptical ridges and a central plaza. It was created and used for residential and ceremonial purposes by a society of hunter fisher-gatherers between 3,700 and 3,100 BC. It also was a trade center, getting stone for its tools from Wisconsin, Florida and Tennessee.

Its population’s achievement in earthen construction in North America wasn’t surpassed for at least 2,000 years.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, the state’s culture and tourism chief, said he believes Poverty Point’s inclusion as a World Heritage Site will attract visitors globally.

“Now we have to get busy and take advantage of it from an economic, jobs and tourism standpoint,” Dardenne said. “It creates a whole new dimension for marketing northeastern Louisiana and consequently the entire state.”

Dardenne said tourism tripled at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico to about 30,000 visitors after its inscription as a World Heritage Site.

“And Chaco isn’t easily accessible,” Darden said. “Poverty Point is located in a rural area, but it’s easily accessible to the touring public.”

Park manager David Griffing said about 11,000 tourists visited Poverty Point last year.

Griffing, who has worked at the site for 29 years, said he’s still processing the elevation of Poverty Point’s global status.

“I’m still soaking in what it means,” said Griffing, who was hired by retired park manager Dennis LaBatt almost 30 years ago after Griffing kept hanging around the site as a young man. “It’s been a dream come true.”

Griffing said he’s already seen an increase in visitors, “and with this world recognition, I expect we’ll see even more,” he said.

Poverty Point archaeologist Diana Greenlee just returned to the site from Doha, where she and Pam Breaux, Dardenne’s assistant secretary for the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development, shepherded the nomination along with a federal delegation.

“Poverty Point is finally getting the recognition it deserves, and the best thing about that is more people are going to want to learn more about it and the amazing things the people did here so long ago,” Greenlee said. “A wider audience is going have an appreciation for the site and understand that it is a treasure.”

Alana Cooper, executive director of the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she and her staff have long steered visitors to Poverty Point, about an hour’s drive from Monroe.

“I think you’ll see more tour buses stop there and a considerable increase in overall visitors,” Cooper said. “It will create an impact throughout the region, both in the rural Delta and in the regional hub of Ouachita, where many people will stay and drive to the site.”

As Allen and Kemper stepped off of the Poverty Point touring tram and began walking to their car, Allen told her sister, “I’m so glad we came. It’s an amazing place.”

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Online: http://bit.ly/1vpBfvO

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If you go:

Poverty Point State Historical Site: 6859 Louisiana 577, Pioneer

Directions: From Interstate 20, take the Delhi exit and travel north on Louisiana 17, east on Louisiana 134 and north on Louisiana 577.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day

Tours: Guided tours are offered daily.

Trails: 2.6-mile hiking trail, paddling trail on Bayou Macon

Cost: $4 per person; free for seniors and children 12 and younger

Phone: 318-926-5492 or 1-888-926-5492

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Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com

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